Innovation From Concept to Commercialization

ULC Robotics Tests Drone Tech at Former Grumman Site

ULC Robotics

LI-Based Robotics Firm Builds Unmanned Aerial Systems Locally to Support Future Windfarms

ULC Robotics, a rapidly expanding Long Island-based technology firm serving the utility and offshore wind markets, has been granted a temporary license agreement to use the inactive western runway at the Enterprise Park at Calverton (EPCAL) for testing of their unmanned aerial systems (UAS), or drones.

The request was unanimously approved at a meeting of the Riverhead Town Board on April 7, 2020 and enables ULC Robotics to use a 2,500 square foot area for flight test operations of their custom-developed, US-built blended wing body vertical take-off and landing (VTOL) fixed wing aircraft.

“Having open space away from the general public is key for us to safely perform flight testing of our new blended wing body VTOL aircraft,” said Mike Passaretti, Director of Aerial Services at ULC Robotics. “And there’s a lot of great history at EPCAL. It was the former site of the Grumman Corporation, where they assembled and tested their aircraft, so it feels like we’re reviving a little bit of Long Island’s aviation history.”

The VTOL aircraft is being developed at ULC Robotics’ Hauppauge, NY headquarters in order to support offshore wind farms, which are to be built off the coast of Long Island. By building and operating their purpose-built UAS to support wind farms, the company estimates a significant 6.8% reduction in the levelized cost of energy (LCOE) and expects a considerable reduction in or elimination of safety hazards.

ULC Robotics will deploy their VTOL aircraft to provide services including protected species observation during offshore wind farm construction, inspection of critical assets, the delivery of parts for repairs, and even search and rescue efforts.

ULC Robotics started supporting the offshore wind industry in 2018 by inspecting the wind turbine foundations of the Block Island Windfarm, the first windfarm in the US. The company has since continued work for Orsted, owner of the Block Island Wind Farm, and also currently performs unmanned aerial services for companies such as PSEG Long Island, National Grid, and Con Edison.

ULC Robotics and SGN Team Up to Build All-Electric Excavation Robot

ULC Robotics

US Robotics Firm and UK Gas Network Develop World’s First Robotic Roadworks and Excavation System to Transform Utility Excavation

One of the largest gas network companies in the UK has partnered with a world-leading robotics company to transform the most costly and disruptive job in the industry – excavation.

With its gas pipes buried underneath Britain’s roads and pavements, excavating in the road is essential to enable SGN to maintain and upgrade its network. However, this doesn’t come without associated safety implications as well as disruption to residents and road users. SGN is committed to reducing the impact of its essential work on the public and so the company is investing in ground-breaking technology to alleviate these issues.

“Because we operate 76,000km of underground pipelines in the UK and dig thousands of excavations every year, we recognize the need for smarter roadworks,” said John Richardson, Head of Innovation at SGN. “We’re leading the effort to change utility excavation by investing in the development of technology to address this global problem.”

The Robotic Roadworks and Excavation System (RRES) project combines a powerful industrial robot, an all-electric track drive system, below-ground locating sensors, artificial intelligence, machine vision, and new vacuum excavation methods for safer, faster autonomous roadworks.

The collaborative project between ULC Robotics and SGN, which is funded by UK energy regulator Ofgem, will reduce accidental damages to buried infrastructure, minimize carbon emissions and improve the safety and speed of utility excavation and construction.

“We are at the midway point of the project and in partnership with SGN we have been able to create the world’s first functional all-electric autonomous excavation robot,” said Ali Asmari, Ph.D, Program Manager at ULC Robotics. “There is a significant amount of work remaining, including the development of additional tools and support equipment, as well as testing and validating the robotic operation in different environments, but we have an outstanding team and are confident that the robot will be ready to work come 2021.”

The RRES is currently conducting autonomous operations, including cutting of the road surface and performing a patented vacuum excavation method.

“Progress on the development, learnings and outputs of the project have gone above and beyond our expectations,” said Richardson. “We see RRES as a platform that can expand to meet the needs of the global utility and construction industries.”

Initial field trials of RRES are scheduled to take place in 2020 on the SGN network.

ULC Robotics to Develop Leak Detection & Repair Robot to Prevent Methane Emissions

ULC Robotics

ULC Robotics has been awarded a contract by the Department of Energy (DOE) to develop a prototype robotic system for inline leak detection and repair of live transmission and distribution natural gas mains. This Phase II award was conferred after ULC successfully completed a 10-month Phase I project to study inline leak detection, develop internal repair methods, and assess the feasibility of the robotic system.

“We are working to create a solution to quickly limit the methane emissions from leaks in natural gas pipelines and make pipelines safer,” says Aalap Shah, R&D Project Manager at ULC Robotics. “The robot will operate in pipelines that are not always readily accessible, such as pipeline below roadways or railways. By instituting temporary repairs pipeline operators will be able to maintain service and avoid loss of supply during critical periods.”

Traditionally, crews must be dispatched to perform bar-holing to pinpoint the location of a leak—a lengthy and labor-intensive process during which excessive methane may be released into the atmosphere. Conventional methods also require extensive excavation, which is costly, disrupts gas service to customers, and can cause traffic or public transit delays.

Using cutting-edge component technologies and the latest robotic design concepts, the robot will detect, locate, and classify leaks. Once identified, the robot will instantly deploy a rapid repair method to seal damaged areas and enable the pipeline to continue operating temporarily for up to two years, until permanent repairs can be made.

Because the robot will be able to perform repairs immediately and does not require traditional excavation, pipeline operators will see a significant reduction in O&M costs, as well as the amount of methane emissions being released into the environment.

After completing the project, ULC will focus on prototype improvements, pilot testing, and deployment within live transmission and distribution mains.

ULC Robotics to Streamline Hazardous Liquid Pipeline Maintenance

ULC Robotics

With over 200,000 miles of hazardous liquid pipeline spanning the US, the need to ensure the integrity of these pipelines is tremendous. Pipeline operators are under pressure to perform meticulous in-line inspections and accurately collect data in order to maintain the security of crude oil, refined petroleum, and biofuel pipelines.

Using funding from the Department of Transportation’s (DOT) Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) program, ULC will study the feasibility of using guided wave Electromagnetic Acoustic Transducer (EMAT) technology to create an enhanced dual-purpose in-line inspection tool. Able to integrate with existing internal cleaning systems, the tool will streamline inspection and maintenance operations into a single process.

EMAT technology uses a permanent magnet and electric coil to generate ultrasonic waves, allowing it to measure wall thickness and detect, assess, and characterize defects or material properties. Over the last five years, ULC has made significant advancements in the research, development, and commercialization of this technology. Most notable is the integration of wall thickness measurement EMAT technology into ULC’s CIRRIS XI™, an in-line inspection robot for cast iron natural gas distribution mains. Since then, ULC has continued to develop expertise in guided wave EMAT for the inspection of steel and cast iron pipelines to identify corrosion and cracks.

Through further research, design, and testing ULC will work to maximize guided wave EMAT sensor sensitivity to defects and produce live inspection data for immediate remedial action. The resulting dual-purpose tool will enter the pipeline through existing pig traps to simultaneously perform cleaning operations while inspecting for defects such as wall loss and cracks, presenting a low-cost, lightweight solution.

By integrating such an inspection tool with an existing cleaning system both processes will be completed in a single pass, reducing operating costs while performing critical maintenance and providing unparalleled insight into asset health. The tool will ultimately enable pipeline operators to ensure the safety and integrity of their mains and prevent potential hazardous leaks and spills.

SBIR Pipe Dwelling Robot

ULC Robotics to Develop Pipe Dwelling Robot with Funding From the US Department of Energy

ULC Robotics

ULC Robotics is taking the first steps toward developing a robot that will permanently reside within high-pressure gas transmission mains so that it can be called up to instantaneously repair emergency leaks and perform routine inspection and maintenance activities.

With funding from the Department of Energy’s (DOE) Small Business Innovation Research program, ULC will evaluate the feasibility of developing this smart pipeline inspection robotic system, as well as its integration with existing supervisory control and data acquisition (SCADA) networks. Once mobilized by the SCADA operator the robot would conduct rapid repairs within live conditions, as well as execute inspections for the prevention of leaks.

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